Say Ciao in Vancouver truly does it all

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Dining Out review: Say Ciao

Where: 2501 S.E. Columbia Way, Suite 270, Vancouver. www.say-ciao.com

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; closed Saturday and Sunday. At 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday handcrafted appetizers are added to the menu.

Contact: 360-448-7111, www.say-ciao.com

Health score: Say Ciao received a score of 5 on July 14. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants with a score of 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.

Why: If one place does it all, Say Ciao may be just the place. Wine tasting, beer on tap, small plates, appetizers and entrees for lunch and dinner, live music, catering, private events and a blog are all part of the recipe which owner and chef Peter Gallin has created to bring a unique establishment together. Gallen has been in the industry for more than 30 years, much of which has been in the Pacific Northwest. If you remember Applewood restaurant and catering, then you are already familiar with Gallin’s fresh, healthy, simple and elegant style — a style that is at the core of his philosophy on food.

What I tried: My dining companion and I settled on the Cantonese-style caramelized pork belly and the house-made Angus beef meatballs for appetizers. We sampled the grilled medallions of chicken breast and the pan-fried panko and sesame breaded pork tenderloin for our entrees.

The pork belly is cut into bite-size slices and arranged in a semicircle around a portion of arugula, pickled sesame jicama and scallions with a touch of honey. Sliced ginger and cilantro garnish the plate. Each bite of pork belly was equally meaty with just a touch of fat. The overall flavor of the dish imparted a caramelized essence, with a sense of fresh to every bite.

The meatballs were standard size but packed a giant-size flavor. Each one was lean and meaty with a rich, melted gorgonzola center. The meatballs (three in all) were drizzled with a dijon tarragon sauce and paired with a garden-fresh tomato concasse with scallions and gorgonzola crumbles. This dish possessed an array of taste with appetizing appeal.

Of the two entrees we tried, the pork tenderloins were most impressive. The meat was lightly breaded and pan fried to perfection, leaving the pork delightfully tender. Wild rice and blanched green beans accompanied the breaded tenderloins, and a sweet and tangy Szechuan mustard sauce was drizzled over all three elements of the dish, imparting a custom touch to the entree.

The chicken medallions were simple in their preparation; char-grilled lines crisscrossed each medallion and was the dominating taste. This entree included blanched green beans, as well. It also had a quinoa salad that combined sweet peppers and spinach. I am always interested with the means by which quinoa is prepared to bring more substance to it, and I thought the peppers and spinach did a marvelous job giving it presence. A roma tomato relish with Kalamata olives and capers accompanied the dish as well and served to kick up all the flavors a notch.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: At the time of my visit, there was also grilled chicken sesame with Thai five-spice peanut sauce and panko and parmesan breaded eggplant with roasted tomato vinaigrette for appetizers. Entrees included rockfish tacos with cucumber lime salsa, cilantro and baby field greens. Sandwiches include a pepper-crusted roast beef sandwich, a honey-cured ham sandwich and a vegetarian wrap. A one-third pound ground Angus chuck burger on a sesame seed brioche bun is on the menu, and salads offered include a chef salad made with crisp romaine lettuce and spinach, roma tomatoes, bacon, julienne grilled chicken breast, hard-cooked egg, red onion, julienne cheddar and jack cheese tossed in creamy herb vinaigrette, as well as a spinach salad that combines spinach, toasted sunflower seeds, sun-dried tomatoes, crumbled goat cheese and creamy herb vinaigrette, and there is also a simple house salad.

Atmosphere: Say Ciao is located in an industrial park, which in itself sets the foundation for a unique experience. Instead of the typical drenched-in-black ceiling, Say Ciao is white and bright above the smartly appropriated space. A warm and inviting earth-toned color palette paired with natural wood furniture, flooring and interior construction has been used to create a Northwest vibe. Homey elements are found in decor items which bring a comfortable and inviting quality that encourages lingering beyond the dining or tasting time spent at Say Ciao.

Other observations: I was impressed with the whole package Say Ciao offers for dinner dining. The items we tried were deliciously satisfying. The pacing is spot on, and portions are reasonable. The atmosphere and the live music feels exclusive and well-suited for a date night, and the service is professional and attentive. Almost all the menu items at Say Ciao are made from scratch from local ingredients.

Cost: (Dinner menu prices. Different items are on a lunch menu at a slightly lower price.) Appetizers are $8 to $10. Entrees cost $15 to $17. Sandwiches are $5.50 for a half and $10.25 for a whole. Burgers cost $10 and you may add fries for an additional $2. Burger add-ons cost 75 cents and $1.75. Salads cost $5.50 to $10.50. Soup of the day is $5.75 and chili con carne made with roasted green chilies costs $6.50. Quesadilla is $5.75 (add chicken for $2 more). A basket of hand-cut french fries is $5 or $2.75 for a small order. Beer on tap varies according to selection. Wine is $5 to $10 per glass and $19 to $44 by the bottle. Other beverages cost $1 to $2.